Monday, February 25, 2008

Can urban and suburban churches work together?

I recently heard a preacher from Detroit deliver an exciting sermon about how suburban and urban churches can work together in ministry. I can tell that the other pastors in the room were excited at the prospect. Most of them were suburban pastors.

The excitement carried into a special breakout session for senior pastors only but I could tell by the nature of the questions asked that there was more interest in what was happening in Detroit than there was in what could happen in our own community. Some pastors had taken an important first step but the road to cooperation is long and winding and full of potholes.

This summer a church from North Carolina will send a team of 100 summer missionaries into my urban neighborhood to work in our various ministries to the poor. At the same time most of the suburban churches near my neighborhood will be sending mission teams all over the world. Why is it easy for some churches to go to the outermost parts of the world and yet ignore their own Jerusalem and Samaria?

The fault could be in the urban pastors of small churches. They often distrust the motives of larger churches and fear they will lose control of their ministries, so they are not inclined to ask for help. Maybe it’s the suburban churches. Working with a church across the county is not much and adventure vacation. In most cases it is a lack of communication and risk aversion that keeps churches apart.

While the conversation has just begun for some churches in my community, many others have been partnering to work with other churches for some time. The Teen Moms program that meets at First Baptist Church in Waukegan has been a partnership of urban and suburban churches for more than 20 years. The relatively new BAM House ministry for recovering addicts is, also, a partnership of churches. From Sharefest to adopt-a-school to Love INC, churches in my community are working together for the sake of the gospel. This has been a part of ministry in Lake County, IL for the past 15 years I have lived and worked here.

Not all churches will participate. We have to accept that and move on. There are issues of trust, a desire to avoid contact with Christians who believe differently about some issues, or prejudices that are difficult to overcome. The urgency of the gospel does not allow us to wait for everyone to be in agreement before we act.

I rejoice in the ministry partners that God has granted First Baptist Church. Some are near others are far. They represent a broad range of theological beliefs but all agree in the need to work together to reach our community for Jesus. What a beautiful witness oneness can be.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:20-23 (NIV)

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